Domestic Sports Need a Trigger, Like Nigerian Music Got Tu Face and Comedy Got Ali Baba

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Those who do not believe our local sports industry can be the next big thing should look back at the developments in our entertainment industry, especially music and comedy. In the early 1990s your party or event had to be ‘local’ for the DJ to play Nigerian pop music. Today, if the DJ does not play Nigerian songs at least 80% of the time, your party, however highbrow it is, would not rock. Same can be said of Nigerian comedy which was only fit for ‘un-international’ people, but now thrills audiences around the world. Back then musicians and comedians commanded insignificant wages, while brand endorsement deals were a rarity. Today, domestic sports have little appeal, but are there disruptors out there that can change that?

​:H aving played in the marketing communications industry since the early 90s I have had direct dealings with some of the game changers. I will tell you two stories to illustrate why I believe that the sentiments towards domestic sports can change dramatically in the coming years and why the early runners: businessmen and sponsors who get in now, may profit immensely.
In late 1995 I was returning from Ibadan where I was responsible for marketing the Ibadan Polo Tournament, when I met the legendary comedian Ali Baba standing by the Mobil Filling Station in Maryland waiting for a cab. I was in a chartered cab and I offered him a ride. I had known him casually for a few months because a brand I was managing was involved in sponsoring the Bisi Olatilo Show on AIT. Ali Baba was a fresh, shy support act on the show. On this day he appeared almost embarrassed that I was giving him a ride, perhaps, because unknown to me, he was already a rising star.
He quickly launched into how well he was doing and how he had a couple of end-of-year shows lined up that would pay him about N40,000 and N50,000 respectively. I thought he was bragging about his fortunes, as at that time, a good second car – which was the rave for guys our level – was about N40,000-N50,000. Who would pay a comedian that amount I thought. I was badly mistaken. He refused to be priced cheaply and got his way. Just a few months later he had become a genuine star. I remember reading in one of the tabloids that he had bought two cars. Ali Baba had basically pioneered the era of comedy as a lucrative career and business.
About the same time the popular musician Lagbaja was soaring into orbit. His Motherland hangout in Opebi had become the place to be seen. The guy was raking in millions weekly, we were told. Three years earlier, while working in Vigeo Limited, I had paid the same guy N30,000 for a birthday gig. As part of his crew then was a young singer called Sunny Nneji, anyone remember him? But the music story I want to tell is that of Tu Face and the Plantashun Boyz.
In 2001 I sold an advertising campaign idea to one of my clients looking to relaunch their once popular analgesic brand. Our strategy was to utilize the Plantashun Boyz. The youngster had had a first wave of success, but their brand had cooled a bit. Still there was some marketing potential there. They did four amazing jingles for us, but the brand handlers, not having a real advertising culture, shied away from the cost of radio advertising. However we ran the print and outdoor ads sparingly and also used them for a calendar. For the entire campaign we paid the group one million naira. I remember them coming to our offices in a beat-up minivan that I recall had problems once or twice.
Not long after that music moguls Kenny Ogungbe and Dayo Adeneye took over the management of Tu Face – and from what I recall of the stories, bought him a decent second-hand jeep, rented an apartment for him in the more upscale Festac town, released African Queen, and fame and the millions rolled in. Local musicians have not looked back since.
So can the same happen in sports? Can there be a spark that transforms the industry into one that packs millions of paying fans into our stadiums across the country every year; a development likely to explode investments in the industry? I believe so. Very much.
Maybe football will finally live up to its top billing, maybe some other sport will come along and wake everybody up, but the ingredients are there, waiting; waiting for a moment of inspiration. We are a sporting people, we have great numbers, we have extremely strong economic potential, we have an amazing country with great topography; we have everything as a country to attract the world and sponsors. We just need a trigger.
Nigeria needs this because of how big sports can be. Today most of our sponsorship naira goes into entertainment, but that goes against global norms. IEG, the leading global authority on sponsorship, says sports events hold the largest market share of sponsorship dollars in the world, accounting for a whopping 66%. Following sports is entertainment and attractions which accounts for a mere 11%.
We don’t need the entire population to change things, we don’t even need government to lead the process. All our sports need is a game changer like Ali Baba or Tu Face and the rest will be history. I am myself involved in a tennis project with a few forward-thinking partners. We want to rip up the rules. So maybe in 2018 history would be made. Who knows?